The Red Balloon



The Red Balloon

directed by Albert Lamorisse
Short film

View a still from the film

We survey the grey pavements of Paris, sky and streets seemingly laid from the same colourless concrete. We would barely recognise this as a colour film, were it not for the bright, scarlet balloon illuminating each frame. An anthropomorphic bubble of life, it bobs along with buoyant optimism, weaving and swooping with every twist and turn of the tale. Lifeless cityscapes are transformed within the sheen of its reflective, convex surface, as if soaked in rosé, or seen through a vinous cloud.

As the minutes elapse, the tension inflates. The mortality of this plastic pocket of helium causes us to grow anxious. It is neither digitally contrived nor a visual trick; it is palpable and easily punctured. Each expressive lilt is an act of manipulation by an off-screen puppeteer, movements determined by the tweaking of near-invisible wires. The camera snatches repeatedly at the string dangling from the floating orb’s form, trying to tie it down, hoping to wrap it around our hand for safekeeping.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

Gleaming amid the dreary streets is a red balloon, waiting to be collected by a young boy. It is mischievous but loyal, often hovering just beyond the reach of its owner, but always keeping close. In one scene, the boy asks a grandfatherly figure to look after the balloon while he goes to school, instructing his airborne companion to wait patiently for him, speaking as if it were a pet. The gesture seems removed from the real world, inviting the viewer to hanker after this quaint alternative.

In the film’s final scenes, balloons glide towards our protagonist from all directions. We look up from below as they light the sky in multiple shades, sailing to their destination. Eventually, the child is able to grasp the helium vessel and rise up into the sky. The aerial chariot takes on a sculptural form as it soars across the horizon. These throwaway objects have united to form a single, elegant structure, triumphantly carrying its passenger to a more joyful place.

Words by Sophia Martin-Pavlou

More to discover

You can watch a video review by A.O. Scott for The New York Times. Brian Selznick has written about The Red Balloon for The Criterion Collection. Tiffany Malakooti & Lucy Raven have written about Albert Lamorisse's later film The Lovers' Wind for Bidoun.

Question of the day

Can we empathise with inanimate objects?
Share your thoughts on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

Yes! If moral contagion can cause us to be disgusted by innocent objects, then we should be able to feel sorry for objects too.

Rachael Ball, cartoonist and author of The Inflatable Woman (via The Brief →)

If you are an animist, I think so. I have. It’s like an expansion of your awareness of everything around you – to try to imagine being something you could never be.

– Deradoorian, musician (via The Brief →)

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